Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dammit.

So I figured I was recovering pretty well from the hernia surgery so I tried going in to work yesterday.

Mistake.

I not only had to leave early but I think I’m back where I was last Saturday.

Farzing grebbernaf bandersnatches!


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Daughter of Silence (Craigslist story)

SYSTEM: NONE

I had hoped to have this done by Hallowe'en, but deaths and funerals and surgery prevented that.

As usual, it's a first draft. I might change it later and (I hope) make it better.

It's kind of an experiment, because superheroes are all about competence and horror is all about tension: will this work? Will it not?

The Daughter of Deep Silence

I’m listening to a serial killer, which is not a scenario that usually goes to a good place. Currently he’s just a voice on the intercom but the fact that I’m hearing him means that things have gone wrong.

Like usual.

#

Flashback, yesterday. I’m in my bathroom popping a pimple. This pimple is right inside my knee and it hurts every step I take. I have no health insurance but it’s not a big or deep pimple.

Glamorous life of a supervillain. (Also, it’s satisfying to pop pimples. Do not judge me.)

Anyway, I’m twisted up with a leg on the sink trying to get a good pinching grip and I look up at the mirror on the medicine cabinet.

I am looking at a fleshless skull.

I shriek once because I do not expect this. The skull opens its mouth and in that instant the horrifying image becomes a science experiment.

I open my mouth, it opens its mouth. I close, it closes. I turn my head, it turns. I count teeth on the lower jaw, trying to see of the wisdom teeth are still there, when I notice it doesn’t have my filling.

Then the filling appears.

The conclusion is clear: Someone is messing with my mind. In real-time.

So I finish with the pimple (at least I hope I do; when someone is messing with your mind, anything is possible) and then look up at the mirror again.

A shrouded woman in Victorian funeral clothes is looking at my skull in the mirror. She has empty sockets instead of eyes and is crying blood. Total unreasoning fear floods me and I am stuck there with one leg up on the sink.

I can’t help checking over my shoulder. Nope. Nothing there.

I nod to the figure in the mirror. Professional courtesy. “Red Mary,” I say, as politely as I can without any spit in my mouth.

And she is gone.

#

I was so freaked that I grabbed my dog, Slobberkin, and left, slowing down only to put on pants and shoes. I have practiced getting out fast and I set records that day. I was a block away before I could even think. All jittery from adrenaline, I jogged Slobberkin to the nearest dog park, which made him happy, and I spent a little bit of time not-thinking on purpose.

After I let Slobberkin loose to run like a maniac, I walked slowly, trying to marshal what I knew of Red Mary.

Look, a lot of people see superfolk as evidence of magic without rules. But if there are no rules, how can you plan anything? How can you exploit the rules? So I chose to believe that she was some kind of mutant or dimensional extrusion. Even if she was magical, the magic must have rules, somehow.

Her mission was vengeance: she was no hero. She preyed on those who prey on women. A typical vengeance saw the man (usually a man) flayed, killed, and his corpse reanimated to deal with his enablers. She wasn’t effective in a systemic way: men still abused women. But if you were the man she targeted, well, you weren’t doing it again.

Back in high school, girls said you could invoke her with blood and an invocation, but you couldn’t put her down or control her. We learned the invocation but I don’t know that she ever showed up.

She had been doing this for…a decade? A century? A millennium?

Nobody knew.

My fear slowly went away and was replaced by anger and indignation. I hadn’t hurt any women. I hadn’t tried to summon her. I had been minding my own business.

I sat on the bench and did some searching with my phone. When you put “Protection from Red Mary” into a search engine, you don’t get directed to nice places.

Funny, that.

I thought the gist of it was going to be “So long, you’re done” but unpleasant people had ideas. There were some things I just wasn’t going to do (the thigh bones of a virgin?) and some I didn’t have access to (like the remains of a Catholic Saint) but that left something to try.

That night I put Slobberkin in his crate (I’m crate-training him) and surrounded the crate and the bed with a thick ring of kosher salt.

It took twelve boxes.

It also didn’t work.

#

Air thick and sooty with something industrial. Leaving a child—a little girl, the only source of joy. The girl had a doll as long as my hand, and she showed it to…me? Her mother. The viewpoint. Like going to see Shakespeare, I missed most of what was being said but I got the feeling.

Adjust the dress and out into a smoky awful world. Cobblestone streets, brick houses jammed together and interspersed with wooden shacks like rotten teeth in a hillbilly’s mouth. Fog or smog or industrial fumes. Standing on a corner near a…theatre of some kind?

Victorian London.

The one that sucked, without Oscar Wilde-like parties and witticisms.

A man—no, the man—approached. When he had her alone, he said that she was special. Gorgeous, he said. He wanted her. He wanted…he wanted her blood? A vampire? No, a doctor or something. Had a syringe. He wanted to inject her with something.

I—she—refused.

He offered meus—her—money. No. Rinse, lather, repeat. Eventually it became obvious to us, her, that she wasn’t getting out without saying yes.

He was nice about it, at first; then insistent. She was beautiful, he said; he couldn’t bear to be without her, he said. He didn’t want to lose her again.

I didn’t feel that she knew him. The “again” was just nonsense. I wanted to scream, to tell her that he was obviously a psycho, but I was just a passenger in this dream.

Injection. Burning sensation, a hot itch that spread from the site. He counted five minutes. She was restless, but the payment had included the time.

“Now,” he said sweatily, “now you are immortal. I’ll show you.”

He had a knife.

They say you die if you die in your dreams.

They’re wrong.

#

I jerked awake, like when you have a leg spasm. I wasn’t in my bed any more—I was in front of my computer in my underwear.

The web browser was open to a picture of a man in front of a wall of dolls, which was creepy enough. In the guy’s arms was was the doll, the kid’s doll, because it was the one hundredth Victorian doll this guy had gathered.

One guess who it was.

The caption read, “If you keep looking, you’ll find it. John Q. Alias holds up a rare Victorian doll.”

But it was dated three years ago.

Why me? Why now? She wasn’t there to ask.

If any of it was true: she was in my head. She could be messing with me. For all I knew, my life-long fondness for Super Crisp cereal actually started last night.

I had an hour until it would be safe to take Slobberkin to the park. I switched to the anonymous account and started researching this guy.

The picture was in soft focus, probably to make that damn wall of dolls less creepy. He looked like he was in his fifties, about ten years older than the dream.

His name was as contrived as H. H. Holmes’: Todd Brandon. Widowed (of course). Inherited wealth from his “father.”

There are clues to being long-lived; three people have been revealed since 1980. Still, having money is its own superpower and nobody really looks. But: mysterious inheritance, check; long-held property, check; reclusive or multiple residences, check; collector of antiquities of some sort, check. Contrived or symbolic name, like A. Lucard or Jack L. N. Hyde, optional.

Apparently immortality comes with a love of wordplay and callbacks.

Brandon’s local house, the one with the doll collection, was in the Maryhill district. Maryhill was where the rich folk lived but the city crept up on it. I knew the area because there were a couple of houses there on my to-burgle list.

It was dawn. I stretched, brushed my teeth and dressed, and took my dog out to Maryhill to look at the house and area.

#

Supervillainy isn’t all superpowers and big fights. To case the house itself, I got a briefcase with glossy stock info, had Shelley put business makeup on me and dressed in a power suit. Drove up in a posh (stolen) car and rang the doorbell. Mr. Brandon wasn’t in, said the lady, but he was expected. I wasn’t on the list, but I could wait in the office?

I left the briefcase there and asked to use the powder room. No escort, so I made sure I wasn’t being watched and headed for the second floor.

The bastard had rooms of dolls. Each doll room I saw had a pattern inlaid in the floor that looked, in a word, mystical. Clever: couldn’t be erased that way. And every second I was there increased chance of discovery.

Finding the doll would have been great. Being caught by staff wouldn’t have been terrible: I’d have been reprimanded and thrown out, but at least I would have cased the place.

Being knocked unconscious and tied up was not on my list.

If you live, you learn.

#

“I don’t suppose you’re a virgin, hmm?” was the phrase that woke me up. He had a mushy British accent and some kind of speech defect. “Not in these days, more’s the pity.”

White tile and overhead lamps made the room look like a surgery from the turn of the century. What I saw next was the neatly labeled jars of chemicals and organs. I was fastened to a big padded chair, like a dentist’s chair. He had his back to me as he fussed over a tray of syringes and ugly stainless-steel instruments.

He turned around…and the flesh above his mask was yellow, cracked, and peeling. Along with the light on his head, he had some contraption to drip fluid on his eye because there was no eyelid there.

“It’s been a long game, with Mary.” He chuckled. “She wants that doll. She sends someone, I catch them. Letting her select the victims turns out to be much more…effective. The whores she picks are so rarely missed.”

I found my voice. “You’re working together?”

He shook his head. “She’d kill me, if she could. Not that it would get her the doll; every room is warded.” He tapped the syringe once to get the air bubbles out. “Now, there might be…well, a lot of pain, but when I’m done, part of you will live on. And it’s to let me continue to do my scientific work, which is the most noble purpose someone like you could have.”

I nodded and swallowed the fear in my voice. He mustn’t hear the fear.

“Doctor!” I called in the lady’s voice from behind him. “Sorry to interrupt you. At the door. A policeman says he must talk to you.”

“I can’t be disturbed. Not until I’m done.”

“He insists.”

The Doctor slipped on heavy wraparound sunglasses and adjusted his wig.

No sooner was his back to me than I was tugging at the restraints. They were metal and I couldn’t get free. Maybe someone with more time could, but I only had a minute, maybe three. He shut the door behind him. I heard the bolt slide shut. Distantly I heard him on stairs, but the door muffled everything.

Sometimes metal has a resonant frequency, like the Tacoma Narrows disaster. I sang at the restraints. I started with a low note, increased pitch until I found the right frequency. The restraints started to throb against my wrists and ankles, through the padding. I added to volume just like pushing a kid on a swing to make her go higher. Ten seconds. Twenty. A minute. More.

My wrists and ankles started to go numb from the vibration.

I heard the bolt slide again.

Harder, harder—

The restraints exploded. I fumbled on the table for a scalpel, lurched forward on numb feet.

He came in, locked the door behind him…

…and I stabbed him in the throat. He crumpled.

Stabbing him was the only way I could buy time. I wasn’t a fighter, and I knew that killing him wasn’t permanent.

He was still moving so I pulled the scalpel out and drove it in again, then slashed across the back of one knee. If a pimple there made me walk funny, cutting his tendons had to do more.

Scalpels are not made for cutting through cloth; under the pants I left a red line but didn’t cut tendons. I sank the scalpel into what I could reach, his belly, and twisted. It had to hurt. He stopped moving. He might have been faking it, or dead but getting better.

All I wanted to do was get out, with the doll if I could. Three steps got me to the door.

In clear violation of fire codes, the door had a combination lock. It didn’t move when I tried it. Locked.

Hinges on the inside, so I could remove the hinges. Would it be faster?

No: the pins were held in with some kind of welded flange.

I quickly glanced over to the air vents. Not big enough for a person.

Like he expected people to try to escape.

I had waited almost too long: Before I tried unlocking the door I ran over to a shelf and grabbed a bottle labeled Muriatic Acid in neat handwriting, dumped it onto the Doctor’s head. He had to stay dead while I worked on the door. The sound was awful and the smell was worse—and the Doctor’s scream bubbled on until he died again.

Memo: In future, try to carry gear even in a disguise.

I huffed on the buttons. Some must have been used more than others and they might be detectable. Breath condensed differently on 1 and 8 than the rest of them.

The Jack the Ripper murders were in 1888. I tried that, because see comment about immortals and wordplay.

The door pulled open…and behind me I saw the Doctor was no longer on the floor.

I didn’t know where or how he was hiding, so I left and made sure the door locked. Then I broke the lock, but that ruined the scalpel.

#

I was in a hallway. Through doorways I saw windows and night time beyond. Floodlights illuminated the middles of trees. The building had four storeys, and I was near the top. The doll was on the second floor; I could even use a window from there, but at four floors, chances of survival from the fall are fifty-fifty.

He said from the room beside me, “I’ve dealt with murderous sluts before, of course.”

How did he get there—? Ah. He was talking to every room on the intercom.

Sounded like a lot of his mouth had grown back. (Too bad.)

“I have people guarding the doll and the exits.”

I’m sure “people” was defined loosely.

“Unfortunately, forcing that kind of…regrowth…makes my need for you more urgent, so you are not be allowed to leave alive.” There was the tuneless hum. I’d heard it before, in the dream. “I’m coming for you, you wicked little tramp.”

Moving fast down the hallway, glancing in rooms. Please let one be an old timey drawing room with weapons. Please, please, please.

Nope.

I was out of hall. There was a bedroom left and probably a stairwell right, and a view of the lit driveway in front of me.

Options: Stay on this floor and have him catch up again. All I had to do was lose that fight once. Go down the stairs to the second floor (doll) or ground floor (exits). Open a window and leap for the trees.

I heard a shuffling noise behind me. I looked up: lights were going out along the length of the hall and there was a dark figure heading for me.

I ducked into the bedroom and realized that I should have ducked into the stairwell but he said he had people waiting on the ground and second floors. There I might have had a chance; here I could only pillow-fight him to death.

I wasn’t going to turn on the light, but I could hear his ragged breathing.

He was waiting there, with a knife.

The only thing he might not expect was an attack. I dove for his legs, because they were away from the knife.

He didn’t fall but at least he missed.

I rammed into him at frenzied speed and he didn’t fall.

My arm ached from the impact. I rolled to one side and grabbed a chair leg. It didn’t move either, so I pulled myself away from him as he lunged.

I pulled myself up and heaved on the chair—

It was bolted to the floor.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, right?

He lunged again but I kept the chair between us. The room was dappled from the outside lights but I could see a blackness behind him, between the bookcases. I ran for it.

Yeah, if there’d been something there I would have gotten a broken nose or worse but it was a door, and I shut him out.

As the door—wall?—shut silently, soft lights came on, near the floor, like theatre lighting. Enough to get around.

A secret passage. Very Scooby-Doo.

He could get anywhere in the house. And the lights automatically turned off when you opened the door, to keep victims unaware.

This was his murder castle.

He’d be back in the passage as soon as he got to another secret door. As I reached the railing for a circular stairwell, the stairs the lights went out again.

I started running down the stairwell. The metal stairs were carpeted for silence but I realized he could feel my movements down the stairs. He’d know when I left.

Dammit.

I descended to the bottom of the stairwell. Maybe the people on the ground floor wouldn’t expect me to come up.

The lights went out when I opened the door, and I couldn’t see a damned thing.

The basement was a terrible idea.

I slipped off my business blazer and used it to prop open the secret door. Let him stay in the dark.

(Maybe he’d trip and break his neck. That might slow him down.)

I groped for the door, slipped out. Found a light switch.

No, he wasn’t waiting for me. Instead there was a wine cooler of sorts. The whole wall was a refrigeration unit full of…bottles, face and label out. They were medicine bottles, like cough syrup bottles. The ones near the bottom had hand-written labels but farther up they were laser printed. Most of them seemed empty, but the top few were turbid.

There was something…cloudy…moving in them.

The floor was wooden, with more of those probably-mystic sigils.

“Ah, you’ve found my wine cellar.” A phlegmy chuckle. “My vault of ages, as it were.”

He was behind me. Dr. McStabby.

“I have a gun. Please don’t be foolish. I have three bottles of life left so while my need is urgent, it is not that urgent.”

“Stolen life?”

I could hear the shrug. “Eternal life. What one loses, another gains. Before my methods were crude but now I can extract life essence—vril or whatever you want to call it—and store it. Mass production is the next step. Men will pay handsomely.”

“I thought you were in this for science?”

“Profit and science are not incompatible. Think of the factories that made Britain great.” He waved me away from the wall of bottles. “Obviously you are some kind of mutant, to affect the chair as you did. That makes the estimate rough but you might have a good fifty years left.” He edged past me, covering me, and opened the door. “Together these have only twenty-seven years left. I use it at my accelerated rate and they made poor life choices.” He smiled and turned his head from me to grab a bottle.

“You have pushed my abilities to the limit, you little tart,” he hissed. “I’ll need everything here and more to recover fully, and you’re going to give me the ‘more.’”

I screamed, but not in the terrified way. I screamed in the sonic-powers-breaking-every-bottle kind of way. Dr. McStabby screamed too and fired, but the shattering glass, including the bottle in his hand spoiled the shot.

I switched to the other sound, the one that sometimes makes people sick…

It had no effect on him.

He fired again. His hand was shaking but I had no idea how many shots he had left and when he would stop missing.

If I was going to die, I was going to take him down too.

I scooped up the neck of a bottle and jammed it in his chest. (I was aiming for his throat.) I couldn’t lock him in the cooler—I had shattered the door—but I pushed him back onto the pegs of the rack.

He roared and hit me, hard.

He was a lot stronger than I was. I slid across the broken glass to the open door. Sparks flew as I knocked it off its hinges.

That gave me an idea. I grabbed the wires that ran to the thermostat and jammed them in him.

He actually paused. And laughed as he backhanded me across the floor.

“There’s a transformer, silly girl,” he said. “It’s a few volts, nothing more. Now I’m going to make this painful.”

I jammed the broken glass into the crevices in the floor, as if I were trying to pull myself up, and pulled. He was going to hit me again.

He did. Fire in one of my kidneys.

“Let’s let your life force out.” I could feel it.

I tugged at the flooring inlay again.

He knelt over the wound, inhaling my life. My life force.

I tossed aside the piece of flooring. Mystic sigil un-mysticised.

I said the words I had learned in high school: “Red Mary, defender of women, destroyer of men, I bid you.”

I blacked out but I deduce that Red Mary appeared.

#

SYSTEM: NONE

I had hoped to have this done by Hallowe'en, but deaths and funerals and surgery prevented that.

As usual, it's a first draft. I might change it later and (I hope) make it better.

The Daughter of Deep Silence

I’m listening to a serial killer, which is not a scenario that usually goes to a good place. Currently he’s just a voice on the intercom but the fact that I’m talking with him means that things have gone wrong.

Like usual.

#

Flashback, yesterday. I’m in my bathroom popping a pimple. This pimple is right inside my knee and it hurts every step I take. I have no health insurance but it’s not a big or deep pimple.

Glamorous life of a supervillain. (Also, it’s satisfying to pop pimples. Do not judge me.)

Anyway, I’m twisted up with a leg on the sink trying to get a good pinching grip and I look up at the mirror on the medicine cabinet.

I am looking at a fleshless skull.

I shriek once because I do not expect this. The skull opens its mouth and in that instant the horrifying image becomes a science experiment.

I open my mouth, it opens its mouth. I close, it closes. I turn my head, it turns. I count teeth on the lower jaw, trying to see of the wisdom teeth are still there, when I notice it doesn’t have my filling.

Then the filling appears.

The conclusion is clear: Someone is messing with my mind. In real-time.

So I finish with the pimple (at least I hope I do; when someone is messing with your mind, anything is possible) and then look up at the mirror again.

A shrouded woman in Victorian funeral clothes is looking at my skull in the mirror. She has empty sockets instead of eyes and is crying blood. Total unreasoning fear floods me and I am stuck there with one leg up on the sink.

I can’t help checking over my shoulder. Nope. Nothing there.

I nod to the figure in the mirror. Professional courtesy. “Red Mary,” I say, as politely as I can without any spit in my mouth.

And she is gone.

#

I was so freaked that I grabbed my dog, Slobberkin, and left, slowing down only to put on pants and shoes. I have practiced getting out fast and I set records that day. I was a block away before I could even think. All jittery from adrenaline, I jogged Slobberkin to the nearest dog park, which made him happy, and I spent a little bit of time not-thinking on purpose.

After I let Slobberkin loose to run like a maniac, I walked slowly, trying to marshal what I knew of Red Mary.

Look, a lot of people see superfolk as evidence of magic without rules. But if there are no rules, how can you plan anything? How can you exploit the rules? So I chose to believe that she was some kind of mutant or dimensional extrusion. Even if she was magical, the magic must have rules, somehow.

Her mission was vengeance: she was no hero. She preyed on those who prey on women. A typical vengeance saw the man (usually a man) flayed, killed, and his corpse reanimated to deal with his enablers. She wasn’t effective in a systemic way: men still abused women. But if you were the man she targeted, well, you weren’t doing it again.

Back in high school, girls said you could invoke her with blood and an invocation, but you couldn’t put her down or control her. We learned the invocation but I don’t know that she ever showed up.

She had been doing this for…a decade? A century? A millennium?

Nobody knew.

My fear slowly went away and was replaced by anger and indignation. I hadn’t hurt any women. I hadn’t tried to summon her. I had been minding my own business.

I sat on the bench and did some searching with my phone. When you put “Protection from Red Mary” into a search engine, you don’t get directed to nice places.

Funny, that.

I thought the gist of it was going to be “So long, you’re done” but unpleasant people had ideas. There were some things I just wasn’t going to do (the thigh bones of a virgin?) and some I didn’t have access to (like the remains of a Catholic Saint) but that left something to try.

That night I put Slobberkin in his crate (I’m crate-training him) and surrounded the crate and the bed with a thick ring of kosher salt.

It took twelve boxes.

It also didn’t work.

#

Air thick and sooty with something industrial. Leaving a child—a little girl, the only source of joy. The girl had a doll as long as my hand, and she showed it to…me? Her mother. The viewpoint. Like going to see Shakespeare, I missed most of what was being said but I got the feeling.

Adjust the dress and out into a smoky awful world. Cobblestone streets, brick houses jammed together and interspersed with wooden shacks like rotten teeth in a hillbilly’s mouth. Fog or smog or industrial fumes. Standing on a corner near a…theatre of some kind?

Victorian London.

The one that sucked, without Oscar Wilde-like parties and witticisms.

A man—no, the man—approached. When he had her alone, he said that she was special. Gorgeous, he said. He wanted her. He wanted…he wanted her blood? A vampire? No, a doctor or something. Had a syringe. He wanted to inject her with something.

I—she—refused.

He offered meus—her—money. No. Rinse, lather, repeat. Eventually it became obvious to us, her, that she wasn’t getting out without saying yes.

He was nice about it, at first; then insistent. She was beautiful, he said; he couldn’t bear to be without her, he said. He didn’t want to lose her again.

I didn’t feel that she knew him. The “again” was just nonsense. I wanted to scream, to tell her that he was obviously a psycho, but I was just a passenger in this dream.

Injection. Burning sensation, a hot itch that spread from the site. He counted five minutes while humming tunelessly. She was restless, but the payment had included this time.

“Now,” he said sweatily, “now you are immortal. I’ll show you.”

He had a knife.

They say you die if you die in your dreams.

They’re wrong.

#

I jerked awake, like when you have a leg spasm. I wasn’t in my bed any more—I was in my pyjamas in front of my computer.

The web browser was open to a picture of a man in front of a wall of dolls, which was creepy enough. In the guy’s arms was was the doll, the kid’s doll, because it was the one hundredth Victorian doll this guy had gathered.

One guess who it was.

The caption read, “If you keep looking, you’ll find it. John Q. Alias holds up a rare Victorian doll.”

But it was dated three years ago.

Why me? Why now? She wasn’t there to ask.

If any of it was true: she was in my head. She could be messing with me. For all I knew, my life-long fondness for Super Crisp cereal actually started last night.

I had an hour until dawn, when it would be safe to take Slobberkin to the park. I switched to the anonymous account and started researching this guy.

The browser article was new. The picture was in soft focus, probably to make that damn wall of dolls less creepy. He looked like he was in his fifties, about ten years older than the dream.

His name was as contrived as H. H. Holmes’: Todd Brandon. Widowed (of course). Inherited wealth from his “father.”

There are clues to being long-lived; three people have been revealed since 1980. Still, having money is its own superpower and nobody really looks. But: mysterious inheritance, check; long-held property, check; reclusive or multiple residences, check; collector of antiquities of some sort, check. Contrived or symbolic name, like A. Lucard or Jack L. N. Hyde, optional.

Apparently immortality comes with a love of wordplay and callbacks.

Brandon’s local house, the one with the doll collection, was in the Maryhill district. Maryhill was where the rich folk lived but the city crept up on it. I knew the area because there were a couple of houses there on my to-burgle list.

It was dawn. I stretched, brushed my teeth and dressed, and took my dog out to Maryhill to look at the house and area.

#

Supervillainy isn’t all superpowers and big fights. To case the house, I got a briefcase with glossy stock info, had Shelley put business makeup on me and dressed in a power suit. Drove up in a posh (stolen) car and rang the doorbell. Mr. Brandon wasn’t in, said the lady, but he was expected. I wasn’t on the list, but could I wait in the office?

I left the briefcase there and asked to use the powder room. No escort, so I made sure I wasn’t being watched and headed for the second floor. Quickly: every second I was there increased chance of discovery.

The bastard had rooms of dolls. Each room I saw had a pattern inlaid in the floor that looked, in a word, mystical. The inlay meant it couldn’t be erased that way.

Finding the doll would have been great. Being caught by staff wouldn’t have been terrible: I’d have been reprimanded and thrown out, but at least I would have cased the place.

Being knocked unconscious and tied up was not on my list.

If you live, you learn.

#

“I don’t suppose you’re a virgin, hmm?” was the phrase that woke me up. He had a mushy British accent and some kind of speech defect. “Not in these days, more’s the pity.”

White tile and overhead lamps made the room look like a surgery from the turn of the century. What I saw next was the neatly labeled jars of chemicals and organs. I was fastened to a big padded chair, like a dentist’s chair. He had his back to me as he fussed over a tray of syringes and ugly stainless-steel instruments.

He turned around…and the flesh above his mask was yellow, cracked, and peeling. Along with the light on his head, he had some contraption to drip fluid on his eye because there was no eyelid there.

“It’s been a long game, with Mary.” He chuckled. “She wants that doll. She sends someone, I catch them. Letting her select the victims turns out to be much more…effective. The whores she picks are so rarely missed.”

I found my voice. “You’re working together?”

He shook his head. “She’d kill me, if she could. Not that it would get her the doll; every room is warded.” He tapped the syringe once to get the air bubbles out. “Now, there might be…well, a lot of pain, but when I’m done, part of you will live on. And it’s to let me continue to do my scientific work, which is the most noble purpose someone like you could have.”

I nodded and swallowed the fear in my voice. He mustn’t hear the fear.

“Doctor!” I called in the lady’s voice from behind him. “Sorry to interrupt you. At the door. A policeman says he must talk to you.”

“I can’t be disturbed. Not until I’m done.”

“He insists.”

The Doctor slipped on heavy wraparound sunglasses and adjusted his wig.

No sooner was his back to me than I was tugging at the restraints. They were metal and I couldn’t get free. Maybe with more time I could, but I only had a minute, maybe three. He shut the door behind him. I heard the bolt slide shut. Distantly I heard him on stairs, but the door muffled everything.

Sometimes metal has a resonant frequency, like the Tacoma Narrows disaster. I sang at the restraints. I started with a low note, increased pitch until I found the right frequency. The restraints started to throb against my wrists and ankles, through the padding. I added to volume just like pushing a kid on a swing to make her go higher. Ten seconds. Twenty. A minute. More.

My wrists and ankles started to go numb from the vibration.

I heard the bolt slide again.

Harder, harder—

The restraints exploded. I fumbled on the table for a scalpel, lurched forward on numb feet.

He came in, locked the door behind him…

…and I stabbed him in the throat. He crumpled.

Stabbing him was the only way I could buy time. I wasn’t a fighter, and I knew that killing him wasn’t permanent.

He was still moving so I pulled the scalpel out and drove it in again, then slashed across the back of one knee. If a pimple there made me walk funny, cutting his tendons had to do more.

Scalpels are not made for cutting through cloth; under the pants I left a red line but didn’t cut tendons. I sank the scalpel into what I could reach, his belly, and twisted. It had to hurt. He stopped moving. He might have been faking it, or dead but getting better.

All I wanted to do was get out, with the doll if I could. Three steps got me to the door.

In clear violation of fire codes, the door had a combination lock. It didn’t move when I tried it. Locked.

Hinges on the inside, so I could remove the hinges. Would it be faster?

No: the pins were held in with some kind of welded flange.

I quickly glanced over to the air vents. Not big enough for a person.

Like he expected people to try to escape.

I had waited almost too long: Before I tried unlocking the door I ran over to a shelf and grabbed a bottle labeled Muriatic Acid in neat handwriting, dumped it onto the Doctor’s head. He had to stay dead while I worked on the door. The sound was awful and the smell was worse—and the Doctor’s scream bubbled on until he died again.

Memo: In future, try to carry gear even in a disguise.

I huffed on the buttons. Some must have been used more than others and they might be detectable. Breath condensed differently on 1 and 8 than the rest of them.

The Jack the Ripper murders were in 1888. I tried that, because see comment about immortals and wordplay.

The door pulled open…and behind me I saw the Doctor was no longer on the floor.

I didn’t know where or how he was hiding, so I left and made sure the door locked. Then I broke the lock, but that ruined the scalpel.

#

I was in a hallway. Through doorways I saw windows and night time beyond. Floodlights illuminated the middles of trees. The building had four storeys, and I was near the top. The doll was on the second floor; I could even use a window from there, but at four floors, chances of survival from the fall are fifty-fifty.

He said from the room beside me, “I’ve dealt with murderous sluts before, of course.”

How did he get there—? Ah. The intercom. He was talking to every room on the intercom.

“I have people guarding the doll and the exits.”

I’m sure “people” was defined loosely.

“Unfortunately, forcing that kind of…regrowth…makes my need for you more urgent, so you are not be allowed to leave alive.” There was the tuneless hum. I’d heard it before, in the dream. “I’m coming for you, you wicked little tramp.”

Moving fast down the hallway, glancing in rooms. Please let one be an old timey drawing room with weapons. Please, please, please.

Nope.

I was out of hall. There was a bedroom left and probably a stairwell right, and a view of the lit driveway in front of me.

Options: Stay on this floor and have him catch up again. If I lost that fight even once, I was dead. Go down the stairs to the second floor (doll) or ground floor (exits). Use a chair to smash open a window and leap for the trees.

I heard a shuffling noise behind me. I looked up: lights were going out along the length of the hall and there was a dark figure heading for me.

I ducked into the bedroom and realized that I should have ducked into the stairwell but he said he had people waiting on the ground and second floors. There I might have had a chance; here I could what? Pillow-fight him to death.

I wasn’t going to turn on the light, but I could hear his ragged breathing.

He was waiting there, in the room, with a knife.

How?

The only thing he might not expect was an attack. I dove for his legs, because they were away from the knife.

He didn’t fall or even stagger but at least he missed.

My shoulder ached from the impact. I rolled to one side and grabbed a chair leg. It didn’t move either, so I pulled myself away from him as he lunged.

I pulled myself up and heaved on the chair—

It was bolted to the floor.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, right?

He lunged again but I kept the chair between us. The room was dappled from the outside lights but I could see a blackness behind him, between the bookcases. I ran for it.

Yeah, if there’d been something there I would have gotten a broken nose or worse but it was a door, and I shut him out.

As the door—wall?—shut silently, soft lights came on, near the floor, like theatre lighting. Enough to get around.

A secret passage. Very Scooby-Doo.

He could get anywhere in the house. And the lights automatically turned off when you opened the door, to keep victims unaware.

This was his murder castle.

He’d be back in the passage as soon as he got to another secret door. As I reached the railing for a circular stairwell, the stairs the lights went out again.

I started running down the stairwell. The metal stairs were carpeted for silence but I realized he could feel my movements down the stairs. He’d know what floor I was on by when I got off.

Dammit.

I descended to the bottom of the stairwell. Maybe the people on the ground floor wouldn’t expect me to come up.

The lights went out when I opened the door, and I couldn’t see a damned thing.

The basement was a terrible idea.

I slipped off my business blazer and used it to prop open the secret door. Let him stay in the dark.

(Maybe he’d trip and break his neck. That might slow him down.)

I groped for the door, slipped out. Found a light switch and saw the new room.

No, he wasn’t waiting for me. Instead there was a wine cooler of sorts. The whole wall was a refrigeration unit full of…bottles, face and label out. They were medicine bottles, like cough syrup bottles. The ones near the bottom had hand-written labels but farther up they were laser printed. Most of them seemed empty, but the top few were turbid.

There was something…cloudy…moving in them.

The floor was wooden, with more of those probably-mystic sigils.

“Ah, you’ve found my wine cellar.” A phlegmy chuckle. “My vault of ages, as it were.”

He was behind me. Dr. McStabby.

“I have a gun. Please don’t be foolish. I have three bottles of life left so while my need is urgent, it is not that urgent.”

“Stolen life?”

I could hear the shrug. “Eternal life. What one loses, another gains. Before my methods were crude but now I can extract life essence—vril or whatever you want to call it—and store it. Mass production is the next step. Men will pay handsomely.”

“I thought you were in this for science?”

“Profit and science are not incompatible. Think of the factories that made Britain great.” He waved me away from the wall of bottles. “Obviously you are some kind of mutant, to affect the chair as you did. That makes the estimate rough but you might have a good fifty years left.” He edged past me, covering me, and opened the door. “Together these have only twenty-seven years left. I use it at my accelerated rate and they made poor life choices.” He smiled and turned his head from me to grab a bottle.

“You have pushed my abilities to the limit, you little tart,” he hissed. “I’ll need everything here and more to recover fully, and you’re going to give me the ‘more.’”

I screamed, but not in the terrified way. I screamed in the sonic-powers-breaking-every-bottle kind of way. Dr. McStabby screamed too and fired, but the shattering glass, including the bottle in his hand spoiled the shot.

I switched to the other sound, the one that sometimes makes people sick…

It had no effect on him.

He fired again. His hand was shaking but I had no idea how many shots he had left and when he would stop missing.

If I was going to die, I was going to take him down too.

I scooped up the neck of a bottle and jammed it in his chest. (I was aiming for his throat.) I couldn’t lock him in the cooler—I had shattered the door—but I pushed him back onto the pegs of the rack.

He roared and hit me, hard.

He was a lot stronger than I was. I slid across the broken glass to the open door. Sparks flew as I knocked it off its hinges.

That gave me an idea. I grabbed the wires that ran to the thermostat and jammed them in him.

He actually paused. And laughed as he backhanded me across the floor.

“There’s a transformer, silly girl,” he said. “It’s a few volts, nothing more. Now I’m going to make this painful.”

I jammed the broken glass into the crevices in the floor, as if I were trying to pull myself up, and pulled. He was going to hit me again.

He did. Fire filled one of my kidneys.

“Let’s let your life force out.” I could feel it.

I tugged at the flooring inlay again.

He knelt over the wound, inhaling my life. My life force.

I tossed aside the piece of flooring. Mystic sigil un-mysticised.

I said the words I had learned in high school: “Red Mary, defender of women, destroyer of men, I bid you.”

Red Mary appeared.

#

A gift: The wound was gone. I moved through the death and destruction to collect the doll and my personal belongings. I made my way through the death and destruction, collecting the doll and evidence of me. In the kitchen I put a lit candle on top of the refrigerator, then covered my hands with towels and opened all the gas vents.

I wish I could tell you that Red Mary appeared in my dreams and told me everything was fine, but I never heard from her again.


A gift: The wound was gone. I collected the doll and my personal belongings. In the kitchen I put a lit candle on top of the refrigerator, then covered my hands with towels and opened all the gas vents.

They ruled the fire as an accident. The doll disappeared from my apartment that night.

And I haven't heard of Red Mary since.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Musings as avoidance

SYSTEM: ICONS

Thoughts while I try to avoid thinking about the bad news that’s consuming me.

  • I just realized that putting an Affliction as the secondary effect on an Energy Drain (Or any damaging attack, really) gives you lingering effects for the attack. Like, the blood thinner on the sword makes them keep bleeding, or the vertigo (stunning) that just won’t go away.

    Might be an interesting way to treat lingering effects for some genres. (Trouble or a new Quality might be better.)

  • I just got BubbleGumshoe and I’m thinking about where and if you could blend it with ICONS, though maybe without a Quade diagram equivalent: silver age and before had a number of mystery books. Might be good for a Crisis-style arc or short-shot: they’re often structured around mysteries, like Heroes in Crisis or Identity Crisis.
  • Could you do a fifteen-minute podcast that’s just fleshing out adventure ideas? Get two or three people to talk, each episode someone brings a premise and they riff on it for fifteen or twenty minutes? Would that even be interesting? (Okay, it would be to me, but I suspect there already is one like that; I just don’t know about it.)

  • I know there’s something about teen heroes that isn’t served by Masks, but I haven’t been able to put it into words. Thoughts?
  • Why doesn’t Deadman find someone brain-dead and possess them permanently? (And then set about killing Rama Kushna, perhaps)


  • Do self-aware tulpas found religions? Do they lock up True Believers so they have assured existence?


Monday, October 15, 2018

The Unsquad

SYSTEM: ICONS


With Halloween around the corner, I wanted to do something a little odd but was out of inspiration on the whole monster thing. So here's a team of PCs I might use for some con thing or another and which try to get a bit of that Grant Morrison Doom Patrol flavour.

The Unsquad

Meet the Unsquad.

The leader of the Unsquad, Directory Wye, has brought together individuals with the promise of giving them control over their new selves and improvement. Each member joined for separate reasons:

  • Headache thinks he needs more control over his powers.
  • Gallowglass thinks she needs access to Headache and some way to control the Faery curse so that she can die on her own terms.
  • Rorrim wants to be freed of the malign spirit that makes her a succubus killer.
  • Rabbit Howl wants controlled contact with humanity.

Of course, none of them know much about Director Wye, who is in fact a union of spirits. Director Wye's ultimaet purpose can be good or sinister, as you wish.

Headache

Headache (Karl Young)
PRWCRDSTRINTAWRWIL Determination Stamina
34364619
Specialties
  • Psychiatry (+1)
  • Stealth (+1)
Powers
  • Great (6) Mental Blast
    • Extra: Telekinesis
    • Extra: Telepathy Limit: Preparation
  • Detect (5) Psionic powers
    • Limit: Preparation
    • Extra: Detect (5) Metaphysical weirdness
Qualities
  • It's science, baby.
  • Feels like he couldn't hack the big leagues
  • Needs family

Notes

  • A distruster of magic and cosmic weirdness.
  • A special distruster of people who claim they are relatives way back.
  • Protective of Emily, and oddly possessive of Rabbit Howl: when drunk, he considers the cryptid his ticket back to the big names of superhero-dom.

Gallowglass

Gallowglass (not Headache) might be the token "normal" or average person. Just an immortal mercenary who has been cross-dressing as a man for so long she/he doesn't really remember what sex is preferred.

Gallowglass (Aubrey Young)
PRW CRD STR INT AWR WIL Determination Stamina
5 5 4 4 4 5 2 9
Specialties
  • Military Master (+3)
  • Stealth (+1)
  • Leadership (+1)
  • Weapons (Blades) (+1)
  • Weapons (Guns) (+1)
Powers
  • Supreme (5) Immortality
  • Weak (1) Life Support (unaging)
  • Fair (4) Slashing (magic sword)
  • Fair (4) Gadgets
Qualities
  • Immortal mercenary, cursed by Faery
  • Always has something handy
  • Has seen most everything: "This is just like the time..."

Notes

  • Though the Gadgets covers some improvisation and tinkering, it is mostly about whatever equipment Gallowglass brings along.
  • The choice of last names is not accidental: Her brother was Headache's great-to-the-fifteenth grandfather.
  • Has a secret that must be imparted to Headache, once he believes.
  • The sword always returns, even if it has been taken or destroyed, though the right magical restraints can keep it away. It never needs sharpening. Its magic nature might allow it to penetrate some magical defenses, but that hasn't been tested.
  • A mercenary in Joan of Arc's army, Aubrey pleased the Queen of the Faeries and received the sword as a gift. But then she angered the King of the Faeries, and received a curse that included everlasting life.

Rirrom

Rirrom (Emily Lime)
PRW CRD STR INT AWR WIL Dermination Stamina
6 4 3 5 3 5 2 8
Specialties
  • Athletics (+1)
Powers
  • Supreme (10) Power Mimicry
    • Extra: Theft
    • Limit: Unstable; theft starts after failed roll, 1 level per page
    • Extra: Side Effect: Energy Drain on theft; Extra: Life Drain; Limit: Uncontrollable
Qualities
  • Looks like a bad copy of the person whose powers she has stolen.
  • Deathly afraid of touch, but needs to touch.
  • ?

Notes

  • Summer vacation. Her parents, true nerds, were helping on an archaeological expedition. A seal was opened; a thing was freed. Poor Emily was standing in the wrong place: She was standing in the spirit trap. Now she and the spirit are fused, and her parents have sent her to live with Director Wye.
  • Was on the track team and the basketball team before the entity came.
  • Regards Rabbit Howl as her pet.

Rabbit Howl

Rabbit Howl (Unpronounceable)
PRW CRD STR INT AWR WIL Determination Stamina
5 4 8 3 4 3 1 11
Specialties
  • Linguist (+1)
  • Occult (+1)
  • Stealth (+1)
Powers
  • Average (4) Invisiblity
    • Limit: While standing still
  • Fair (4) Extra Body Parts (claws: Slashing)
    • Extra: Carapace (Damage Resistance)
  • Good (5) Mind Control (the Rabbit Howl)
    • Extra: Broadcast
    • Limits: Only confusion/amnesia (pays off extra), preparation (+2 to level), performance (+2 to level)
  • Weak (1) Super-Senses (see in dark)


  • Weak (1) Super-Speed


Qualities
  • Looks like a monster
  • Cryptid: Shy and secretive
  • Loves novelty

Notes

  • Rabbit Howl is a cryptid, from a secret society of cryptids. His appearance in the Unsquad is the result of his own isolation and the clan pushi g him out to test living openly among humans. (If this experiment doesn't work, there are no cryptids, there never were, Rabbit Howl was a mutant, no need to look for them, bye.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Monsters and superheroes

SYSTEM: ANY

I have to admit, I was always a big fan of Morbius. The whole vampire-but-not-a-vampire schtick appealed to me, plus I used to own the original Spider-Man appearances. The generic field of "scientific monsters" is generally intriguing to me but can be hit or miss; I was not interested in Man-Wolf, for instance. The Moore retcon of Swamp Thing made it more mystical and less scientific, even though it walked in through a very scientific door, the flawed flatworm research of the 1970s. (Side note: has anyone preserved the issues of Worm Runners Digest from those days? I should check; I know that "Hygiene Habits Among the Nacirema" was preserved.)

In fiction, I certainly liked "The De-Mythologized Werewolf" and Green Eyes, which tackle werewolves and zombies, and I Am Legend has a different take on vampires (no, not the Will Smith movie...the book by Richard Matheson).

The scientific veneer gives the monster a hook into the Silver-Age-and-later superhero world that makes it square more with the can-do attitude of those stories.

And horror stories don't have to be non-scientific: I think Blood Music is a fine horror story, and so is "Sandkings" (and that one is structured very much like an EC horror comic: "You sharpen the pencils, the pencils sharpen you.")

Science and monsters don't have to conflict, is what I'm saying: in its day, Dracula was a technothriller, and Frankenstein is all about science.

So when I was casting about for some monster to put a scientific gloss on, I ran across a number of examples, drawn here from comics:

  • Vampires—well, there we have Morbius.
  • Frankenstein's Adam—is your scientific flesh golem (well, technically, flesh golems were invented to take advantage of his legend, but I digress)
  • Werewolves—there's Man-Wolf, of course. The implication in some stories is that lycanthropy is a heck of a disease (and in fact, I can see a story where it was meant to be a magical cure for cancer, but it ends up channelling that rampant cell growth into metabolic changes). Both the Thing and the Hulk are kind-of werewolves, too, but not enough to make my heart sing.
  • Witches—in fiction, the gods of several of Roger Zelazny's books are people with highly advanced science. I think nanotechnology has been used as the varnish to put witchery on a couple of characters, but I can't think of an example off-hand. Still, the basic cosmic character is so close to a witch (and the imagery of the Green Goblin) that I don't think anyone has tried.
  • Demons—have been aliens in a number of places; in one version of DC's history, the bespoke demons were other-dimensional inhabitants who moved into Hell, but were taken over by the renegade angels.
  • Zombies—have been a disease but haven't been given any other rationale that I know of. (Ghouls are rather the same.)
  • Anything from Lovecraft has its scientific gleam backed in.

I can't think of any others, which is rather my problem: coming up with a monster to "science-ize" is difficult. Lots of monsters can be made scary but aren't creatures of horror, really. They're monsters, sure, scary but not necessarily horrifying.

(Having said this, you will now come up with three dozen I have myopically underlooked.)

Monday, October 8, 2018

Thanksgiving

In Canada, today is Thanksgiving day, and it seems like an ideal time to say thank you.

Thank you to my friends, those I've played with and those I haven't met yet.

Thank you to the creators who have inspired me with their works.

Thank you to the various people who have taken a chance on me in both personal and professional capacities. Even though I haven't lived up to your expectations, you did not owe me the chance, and I'm grateful for it.

And, just to round it out, can I say that I'm sorry to the people I have wronged? I'm not the most self-aware person*, so if you're thinking, "If he were really sorry, he'd know what he has done wrong" ...except I have a list of things I have done that is somewhat longer than your kitchen table and a memory somewhat leakier than a screen door. I know that I have wronged people (I can think of two dates where I behaved abominably, for instance, and there are a lot of missed deadlines in there...). f you were to present me with your grievance, there's a very good chance that I'd acknowledge it and admit that I behaved badly...there's even a chance that I try not to live my life that way now...though I'm not a saint, and sometimes the barrier between self-knowledge and self-correction seems insurmountable.

TL;DR: If you're reading this, thank you.

This concludes your mushiness for another few months.

 

*I was going to have a footnote but I changed my mind.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Red Mary

SYSTEM: ICONS
Something for the Halloween to come...the spirit of vengeance
Red Mary
AttributesPRW3INT4
CRD4AWR5
STR 3 WIL 7
Stamina11Determination 
SpecialtiesOccult (+1)
Powers7Incredible Illusions
7Incredible Mind Control
  • Limit: Only works on person who has been Illusioned this chapter
  • Effect: Summon as zombies those killed while under her powers
7Astral Projection Limit: Constant
Knacks
  • Dreadful Presence Her presence causes Emotion Control: Fear (Burst) at her Willpower level
Qualities
  • Ghostly Spirit of Vengeance for wronged women
  • Can be summoned but not dismissed
  • Something on the mortal plane she still values (you decide what)

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Poindexter, the Vampire Tagger

Look, vampires are a rare and endangered species. Or subspecies; the science isn't in yet. What we have to do is find them and tag them. Obviously, they're surprisingly intelligent so they recognize normal tags. But this pneumatic injector puts a radio chip inside them. Hit a big meaty structure like a thigh, if you can.

Yeah, you have to catch them, but it's a humane catch-and-release program.

Oh, you laugh at me, but when my cousin has to relocate one who has developed a taste for human blood,  she does the dangerous work? She's got cages, a truck, a plane...she's put three on a certain island already. I have to get close enough to tag them and then get away.

Listen, I got the tough job.

But it's for Science.

Today's freewriting...

Included this (from the voice, I think it's Mynah again):

I’m talking with a vampire, which is not a scenario that usually goes to a good place.Currently he’s just a voice on the intercom but the fact that I’m talking with him means that things have gone wrong.